Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Carufel Choices | by Pat

Offensive lineman Matt Carufel made it official: he donned a blue and gold hat live on NBC on Saturday and became Notre Dame's 26th known verbal commit. The Minnesota native was one of the few high school football players to both play in the Army All-American Bowl game this past weekend and announce their college choice live on the air. The declaration wasn't much of a surprise as word of his supposed silent commitment to the Notre Dame coaches has been reported here and there since he gave Coach Weis his word on back on October 6th. Still, it's always good to hear it from the recruit himself, and in Carufel the Irish landed a good one.

The fifth offensive lineman to commit to Notre Dame, Carufel brings the strongest resume in a group that's contending for the best collection of offensive line talent (on paper) that Notre Dame has ever landed in a single class. Both a Parade All-American and 2nd Team USA Today All-American, Carufel is a Top 100 national player on both Scout and Rivals. Matt hails from Cretin-Derham High in St. Paul, Minnesota, a strong high school program that also produced current Irish players Ryan Harris, Marcus Freeman, and Rashon Powers-Neal.

A tackle in high school, Carufel projects to playing guard in college, but seems to be capable of playing just about any position on the line. Along with his size, speed, and strength, his position flexibility is one of the reasons he is so highly rated. And while sometimes ratings can be misleading, Matt has the scholarship offers to back up his lofty recruiting ranking status. Miami, Florida, home state Minnesota, and recent O-Line mecca Iowa were some of the many programs that wanted the 6'5", 288 lb. lineman.

The Carufel commit helps to fill a critical lack of depth on the offensive line. Other than quarterback, I can't think of a position where seniority and experience benefit the player as much as it does while playing the OL, and you'd think a football team would maintain a steady of supply of mules. And yet, Notre Dame finds itself woefully lacking in offensive linemen. For whatever reason, Willingham only managed to recruit six total offensive lineman during his three years as head coach: Harris and Sullivan in 2003, Incarnato and Kadous in 2004, and Duncan and Turkovich in 2005. To make matters worse, both Incarnato and Kadous (more on him later) left the team earlier this year, giving the Irish only four total scholarship offensive lineman in the junior, sophomore, and freshman classes combined. Luckily, the lack of depth was not much of an issue this past season as the line played relatively injury-free. But we'll be exposed to a lack of experience in 2006 and 2007, and as the OL goes, so go the Irish.

The good news is that Weis and his assistants have put together a top-notch OL class. Webb, Olsen, Wenger, Stewart, and Carufel all have the flexibility to play multiple positions and all are highly recruited players with offers from major schools across the country. Also, Top 10 national recruit Sam Young is still considering the Irish, and a committment from him would put this group of linemen over the top. Young is the type of player that might be able to compete right away for an open starting right tackle spot next year. And I expect, well, big things out of 360-pound Chris Stewart. Enrolling early will give him a jump on weight training and re-shaping his body for college ball, and I wouldn't be surprised to see him hold down a second-team spot at guard by the end of spring practice.

There will be a lot expected out of this group in the near future as the chance to contribute early and make an impact is theirs for the taking. It will be fun to watch and see which ones make the push to break the starting lineup first.

Speaking of Kadous and his departure from the team, the Arizona Daily Star had a nice follow-up story on him and how he is doing. When he left the team back in the spring, he considered transferring back to Arizona, but in the end decided to stay at Notre Dame as a regular student. In the article he talks about his decision to leave the team, why he stayed at Notre Dame, and if he is considering a return to the football program. It's a good read.

With James Alridge, Chris Stewart, and George West enrolling early, that allows Notre Dame to sign a total of 28 players in February. If my math is correct, Notre Dame has two slots left.